Jean-François Léger & Shihab Shamma, laureates of the 2015 Fondation Pour l’Audition Research Grant
Project : Studying the mechanisms used by the brain to learn sounds
How do babies learn speech? By associating certain sounds and words with meanings and their relations to people, animals, things and ideas. Accelerated learning takes place in the brain during our earliest years.
But how does our brain learn to associate sounds with meanings?
Recent studies have revealed the key role played by neural plasticity – the brain’s ability to change and remodel connections after attentive listening and auditory learning. Remarkable in babies, this process occurs at every age. However, the neural mechanisms and circuits involved remain poorly understood.
Dr. Léger and Dr. Shamma suggest studying the neural mechanisms involved in learning in mice, evaluating the changes in network connections in the part of the brain that processes auditory information. Using state-of-the-art microscopes, they will visualize and monitor the activity of hundreds of neurons while the animals learn.
The aim is to map the networks that enable the auditory brain to learn and associate sounds with rewards, tasks or meanings.
This research will enable the development of therapies for hearing loss, attention deficits, language learning difficulties and communication disorders.